November 8, 2013 | Policy Brief

Khamenei’s 100 Days with Rouhani

November 8, 2013 | Policy Brief

Khamenei’s 100 Days with Rouhani

In a few days, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran will have reached his 100 day mark. Analysts rightly point to the change in tone adopted by the new president, particularly when compared to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his predecessor. Interestingly, a closer look at the statements by Rouhani’s boss, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, may reveal a shift in tone, as well.

In a February 2013 speech to Iranian Air Force Commanders, Khamenei defiantly told his audience, “I’m not a diplomat, I’m a revolutionary…I speak explicitly, honestly, and decisively.”  Khamenei also insisted that “Negotiations with America will not solve anything…”

After Rouhani’s election, however, Khamenei appeared to amplify the pragmatic themes of his new president.  In September 2013, before Rouhani went to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Khamenei promoted “heroic flexibility” in an address to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The address even contained a subtle rebuke of the highly public and prominent role of the Guards in Iran today.

Khamenei’s analogy was chided by a host of characters in uniform to his political right, which may have steered him away from a whole-hearted embrace of Rouhani’s rhetoric. In an October address, the Supreme Leader issued a course correction and said, “…some of the things that happened in New York were not appropriate, but we are optimistic about the diplomatic team of our dear nation and about our diligent administration.”

More recently, Khamenei has shifted again, vocally supporting Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, reportedly claiming, “They have a difficult mission and no one must weaken an official who is busy with work.” This appears to be Khamenei’s way of telling Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the man entrusted with making Iranian compromises, “I’ve got your back.”

Based on his statements, Iran’s 74-year-old leader seems to understand the economic dangers of continued sanctions, although he also seems to grasp that “giving in” could cost him the revolutionary legitimacy that he has tenaciously fostered since coming to power in 1989. Khamenei thus appears to have embraced the position of “balancer,” prodding forward and holding back where appropriate.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is an Iran Research Analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Read more on Hassan Rouhani's first 100 days in office:

The Widening Gap in Iran Between Rouhani and the RevGuards by Ali Alfoneh

Rouhani’s New Spymaster After 100 Days by Ali Alfoneh

Rouhani’s Failed Human Rights Promises by Benjamin Weinthal

All of FDD's work on Iran can be found here.


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